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Bug Science

Using X-ray Radiography To Reveal Ancient Insects 67

Posted by kdawson
from the bug-me-not dept.
1shooter writes "Researchers in France are using a synchrotron as a giant X-ray machine to peer into the insides of opaque amber to reveal insects dating from the age of dinosaurs. 'The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material, revealing its inner structure... From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals: wasps, flies, ants, spiders.' The process reveals detailed 3D images that can be used to make near-perfect enlarged scale models of the bugs using a 'plastic printer.'"
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Using X-ray Radiography To Reveal Ancient Insects

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  • by Sorthum (123064)
    Didn't I see this in Jurassic Park?
  • by Skevin (16048) * on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @07:34PM (#22936306) Journal
    > From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals: wasps,
    > flies, ants, spiders

    Why so far away? They might get better resolution if they held the sample right up next to the machine.

    Solomon Chang
    • by fbjon (692006)
      I thought the same. Damn, that's a powerful beam of light that shines 600 blocks into the ground!


      Also, the video in TFA is worth the time. What I'm wondering is, why the need for a synchrotron? Why not just any old X-ray machine?

      • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @07:46PM (#22936412)

        >why the need for a synchrotron?

        Resolution. Details are shown at the micron level.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jd (1658)
          That and x-ray purity, and a highly controllable coherent source (you can set the energy to what you like), one ring can have hundreds of outlets whereas one laser has one, and they are Seriously Geeky.
      • by sokoban (142301) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @08:27PM (#22936704) Homepage

        What I'm wondering is, why the need for a synchrotron? Why not just any old X-ray machine?
        It seems from the video that the technique they're using needs collimated and coherent light. It seems that they are measuring the change in coherence based on the light being shined through the sample in order to calculate density differences and show structure. They're not doing diffraction measurements here, and the samples don't look like they're large enough to require the intensity generated by a SLS.
        • by H0D_G (894033) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @09:18PM (#22937000)
          The technique is similar to in line holography, in that the resultant image (a phase-contrast X-ray image)is constructed from the phase information of the light, as distinct from the intensity. phase contrast imaging is good for 'squishy' structures as it only needs a very small shift in refractive index to influence the phase, meaning that structures similar in density (ie, that would look similar on a conventional X-ray) can be produced.
        • by Farcalled (935779)
          I would have written "ighy being shone"
    • by RealGrouchy (943109) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @11:11PM (#22937454)
      *looks up from the amber specimen*

      "That's not a bug, it's a feature!"

      - RG>
      • - RG> -- Where did the "Hide replies" button go?!? Grr!
        Slashdot changed their HTML which broke slashdotter. Slahdotter was updated without changing the version number. If you reinstall it, it will all work again.
    • Combo death-ray and microscope.
  • Yes, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Naughty Bob (1004174) * on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @07:38PM (#22936344)
    Researchers in France are using a synchrotron as a giant X-ray machine......Do they run Linacs?
    • You would not want windows in the way when you inject your cyclotron.

      Kids these days.

      • You would not want windows in the way when you inject your cyclotron.
        O RLY? [google.ca]

        Once I was able to draw my eyes away from the, ahh, scientist, and I spotted the screensaver, I had an involuntary 20 minute panic.

        Almost enough to make me support a certain Hawaiian lawsuit...
        • Obviously the picture is just part of a mock-up particle accelerator themed porn shoot - nothing to worry about, move along
    • by gnutoo (1154137) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @10:27PM (#22937312) Journal

      HPC is pretty much Linux dominated and you need some serious horsepower to do 1000 angle sinogram backprojection of cm sized volumes with micron sized beams. A cubic cm would have 10E4 x 10E4 x 10E4 voxels, each with 10E3 angles. Hubba, hubba. They will also have to apply some kind of filtering to each sinogram and probably have to tweak that filter multiple times on lower resolution scans to get it right, and they want to do several a day. I've seen Microsoft clusters choke on networking problems for much less challenging work.

      • yes, we do use (suse) linux to operate synchrotron shutters, engines and other experimental devices. Sorry I don't want to explain more, because I'm reading slashdot backlog of news that accumulated from two weeks. And I want to do it quickly. I don't work with insect samples but with snow samples in the synchrotron.
  • dating? (Score:2, Funny)

    by r00b (923145)
    I didn't realize that insects have been dating for millions of years.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nospam007 (722110)
      I didn't realize that insects have been dating for millions of years.

      That's how they survived (unlike us nerds) to this very day.
  • Holotype (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @07:43PM (#22936394)
    A very interesting sidelight of this is that they "print" a 3d model of the data in plastic, and this model becomes part of the official holotype of the new species. A first for taxonomy, I believe. A 1 mm wasp gets turned into a highly detailed 30 cm model. Very cool, at least if you're a biologist.
    • by 1310nm (687270)
      I thought the 3D printing alone was a cool story, let alone the incredible advance in paleontological technology. Truly a great advancement.
    • by mikael (484)
      Those models will look even cooler when they get an artist with an airfix paint kit to touch up those models. Or even add textures onto the geometry in the viewer. Sell them as hobby kits in the local museum.
      • by jimicus (737525)
        Sell them as hobby kits in the local museum.

        While the amber may be easy enough to sell in the local museum, I cannot shift the feeling that persuading parents to shell out for the millions of dollars of machinery needed to create a model from the insect contained within will be an uphill struggle.
        • by mikael (484)
          I think that was meant to be a funny comment. I meant the plastic models themselves - paint your own Jurassic Bug kit.
    • I don't know. To me, the outer shell is the least important/interesting thing about these creatures. I would think the key would be more to look at how the insides worked, and how they have evolved since then... what made the grade and what was cast aside.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      The 3-D model is then encased in Amber, for protection and buried for the pleasure of future palaeontologists. Ohh wait...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ortholattice (175065)
      The 3-D printing I've heard about builds up the model layer by layer. One thing I don't understand is how they "print" the legs, antennae, etc., since these (if pointing downwards) would have to be suspended in mid-air until the layers that attach them are printed, i.e. they would fall off. So do they print these separately then glue them on?

      One thing I would like to see is the following. Even though I've never heard of it, it is possible that this has been thought of and/or patented. But if not, this

  • If you think this stuff is cool, then LCLS and XFEL will blow you away when they come online. These are great times for accelerator physics, and great times for light sources (unless, of course, LHC destroys us all :S).
    • If you think this stuff is cool, then LCLS and XFEL will blow you away when they come online. These are great times for accelerator physics, and great times for light sources (unless, of course, LHC destroys us all :S).

      True, the LCLS and XFEL are going to be awesome, but I don't know how well accelerator physics will do. Admittedly, more countries seem into making their own synchrotron light facilities. But the LCLS wouldn't have been built if it weren't for the linac lying around that had been built ~40 years ago . And despite their uses in light sources, accelerator physics still seems to be greatly driven by HEP, not photon science. There isn't going to be a rush to build XFELs everywhere, since two mile long linacs

      • by smolloy (1250188)
        Having the use of the SLC linac certainly made life easier for LCLS, but XFEL is being built on completely virgin ground. If (and it's more of an "if" than a lot of people want to admit) LCLS works, then the demand for X-FELs will be *huge*. There are rumours of a second being planned at SLAC, and one in the UK. These machines are very very cool, and stunningly useful for many other fields of research. I'd bet they won't be able to build these machines fast enough to satisfy demand!

        It's true that acce

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Btarlinian (922732)

          Having the use of the SLC linac certainly made life easier for LCLS, but XFEL is being built on completely virgin ground. If (and it's more of an "if" than a lot of people want to admit) LCLS works, then the demand for X-FELs will be *huge*. There are rumours of a second being planned at SLAC, and one in the UK. These machines are very very cool, and stunningly useful for many other fields of research. I'd bet they won't be able to build these machines fast enough to satisfy demand!

          I've never heard of that before, (specifically the second one at SLAC, would it use electron beams from the existing linac or a new one?). The only thing I've heard of is that there are talks of possibly turning PEP-II into a extremely low emittance synchrotron radiation source,a la PETRA, since there's basically not going to be any more accelerator based particle physics at SLAC. Are there really questions as to whether the LCLS will work (i.e., meet its stated design parameters), or do they center more

          • by smolloy (1250188)

            The only thing I've heard of is that there are talks of possibly turning PEP-II into a extremely low emittance synchrotron radiation source,a la PETRA

            Really?! I *work* there, and I've never heard anything like that!

            Actually, this news, if true, reinforces my point. Light sources in general are in such demand, that there are plans to host up to four of them at one site (SSRL, LCLS, rumoured new Xray FEL, rumoured new PEPII based synchrotron)!

            Are there really questions as to whether the LCLS will work (i.e., meet its stated design parameters), or do they center more around its actual utility?

            Remember that Xray FELs have never been built before, and there is every chance that SLAC could discover some new physics that means that making LCLS actually lase impossibly difficult. They've already had a fe

  • by garett_spencley (193892) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @07:58PM (#22936490) Journal
    "The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material,"

    Does anyone know where I can obtain one of these devices ?

    I always thought they were just a novelty sold via mail order in Mad Magazines. Can't tell you how many times I've been disappointed. If this is the real deal then please ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I want one on a shark.
    • by Abreu (173023)
      Darn! I was thinking of posting the same thing!

      Men around the world have been waiting for the ability to selectively see through any kind of materials!

      Why does the goverment allow Kryptonians to hoard this technology? It is all a conspiracy, I tell you!
    • by maxume (22995)
      What, you missed out on the whole video-cameras-can-see-infrared frenzy of five years ago?
    • "The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material,"

      Does anyone know where I can obtain one of these devices ?

      I always thought they were just a novelty sold via mail order in Mad Magazines. Can't tell you how many times I've been disappointed. If this is the real deal then please ...

      I was thinking more along the lines of a small device for amplification by stimulated emission of radiation of that "high-energy light that can pierce just about any material", and having said contraption affixed to the pericerebral cartilaginous structure of a shark.

      I expect that the project would cost around... one MILLION dollars!

    • Does anyone know where I can obtain one of these devices ?

      Have you tried Grenoble, France?
  • It seems that this kind of technology has been around for a couple of years - when did they start and how long have they been doing this? This kind of technology could vastly improve our ability to uncover new facts about the past, and not just for fossils.
  • How long until this "high-energy light that can pierce just about any material" can read the DNA from the blood of a dinosaur bitten by a mosquito trapped in amber?

    No particular intent behind my question...
  • >>From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals

    I'm sure the people in the 600 city blocks between the x-ray machine and the amber weren't too happy...

    -b
  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @08:31PM (#22936744) Journal
    I wonder if this technique will work with Fortran code we still use in our Monte-carlo generators for the LHC. I'm sure it also contains ancient bugs....
  • Find and locate for all the redundant and unnecessary terms in this post:

    X-ray Radiography
    into the insides
    intense, high-energy
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      X-ray Radiography - as opposed to Gamma-ray Radiography
      into the insides - yeah that one is redundant
      intense, high-energy - it's possible to have high intensity streams of low-energy photons, likewise low intensity streams of high-energy photons.
    • by H0D_G (894033) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @09:12PM (#22936966)
      Actually, intense and high energy are not necessarily the same thing, especially in terms of radiation. intense means that the number of photons over an incident area is high, whilst high energy means that the photons are from the higher frequency end of the X-ray spectrum.
  • ...which is, of course, a 'printer' which makes a 3D object out of 'plastic' as distinct from the more common plastic printer which.....oh never mind.
  • From more than 600 blocks, they have identified nearly 360 fossil animals: wasps, flies, ants, spiders.

    Six hundred blocks? That's, like, miles away!

  • but they would all have cancer :P

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